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Bus catches fire in SE China; death toll rises to more than 40

BEIJING (AFP) - At least 42 people died and 33 were injured when a bus "burst into flames" in south-east China, state media reported, the country's latest deadly road accident.

Images on China's Internet news portals showed a heavily burnt-out shell was all that remained of the bus, which caught fire in the city of Xiamen, in Fujian province, at about 6.30pm local time, Xinhua news agency said, citing local officials.

Online pictures also showed survivors with blood-stained clothes sitting stunned, and thick, black plumes of smoke rising from the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicle as it burned on an elevated road.

One passenger told Xinhua that she had smelled gasoline, before the fire quickly spread through the bus.

A local official told Xinhua that the bus caught fire 500 metres away from the Jinshan bus stop, which is in a residential area of the city.

Another local fire official, who gave only his surname, Sun, said bodies were piled up inside the bus.

The accident was under investigation, Xinhua added.

Last August, at least 36 people died when a double-decker sleeper bus slammed into the rear of a methanol tanker and burst into flames, China's worst traffic accident in more than a year.

The accident, in China's northern Shaanxi province, was the deadliest since a fire on an overcrowded sleeper bus carrying flammable materials killed 41 passengers in central China in July in 2011, according to the country's work safety watchdog.

Although accidents on China's popular urban bus network are less common, many buses are packed with passengers.

BRT networks, which now operate in many of China's heavily congested cities, provide faster bus travel by using roads designated for public transport.